Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy

October 16, 2017

How do young adults find romantic partners?  What are their patterns of behavior in romantic relationships?  Why is there a decrease in the number of young adults who are marrying? How does technology affect romance? These are some of the questions that Mark Regnerus’s new book, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy, seeks to describe.  

An associate professor of sociology at University of Texas-Austin, Regnerus analyzes the transformed landscape of romantic relationships and sexual ethics in which all young adults (believers and non-believers) find themselves. This work builds on his two previous related titles: Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (2007) and Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (2011).  What follows are his responses to questions posed about his current research and this shifting environment for young adults.

1. The subtitle of your book is "The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy." However, the Daily Wire asserts that you position women as the "gatekeepers of sex." So do you see this as a transformation of men because of changes in women? Or is there a simultaneous transformation occurring in this marketplace of relationships?

I don’t “position” women as the gatekeepers of sex. They simply are, in consensual relationships. Except in tragic cases where sexual assault occurs, without her “yes,” sexual activity does not happen. While the title talks of a transformation in men, there is no less of a transformation going on among women. But it’s fair to say that the mating market shifts first affected women, and in turn the same among men. And now it’s a self-sustaining cycle for both.

2. What are the rising perceived barriers you have in mind in the Washington Post opinion piece to marriage? Further, how is this phenomenon the result of factors that may be beyond the control of these 20–30 year olds?

Many of the same dynamics that affect the wider population of young Americans is affecting Christians, too, since Christians do not inhabit a distinctive “mating pool.” Most of the factors I describe are beyond the control of individuals—yes. We may control what we do, but we can’t control what’s going on around us, such as the rising median age at marriage and the declining share of Americans that are marrying. And those certainly affect Christians, whose patterns aren’t quite the “national average,” but they’re not radically different, either.

3. What effect do you see this transformation of marriage and sex having on society in the long term? Especially in regard to sexual norms but also in terms of education, economic levels, etc.

Minimally, the flight from marriage—especially among the poor and working class—will only exacerbate inequality in the country. And we’ll see it across domains, including education and the labor market. The poor will get poorer, by being alone, while the wealthier marry at higher rates and combine assets. At a more personal level, we’ll see a growing distance between men and women, increasing coarseness in their (shorter) relationships, less trust, more loneliness. It’s not that there won’t be marriages, but they’ll be less common. And those who want to marry won’t understand what it takes to accomplish it.   

4. You talk about the easy availability of pornography and other tech based sexual behaviors as a way that sex has been transformed. Does this mean that these tech-based approaches to relationships are inherently flawed or is there a use for them romantically (I'm thinking here about online dating or dating apps)?  Also, how do you see the new advances in AI and sexual robots being a factor in the future?

Online dating can be used for good ends, but its underlying logic—which objectifies persons, reduces them to a handful of key traits, and makes sifting through them an efficient process—cannot really be reformed. So yes, they are inherently flawed, but that doesn’t mean people of good will and intentions can’t “override” that. They can, but it’s not as ideal as meeting someone naturally in the social environment. I think most people would agree with that. As for “sex robots,” I see very little standing in the way of their becoming more common. Mass production will make them less expensive, and—like with pornography—it will further cheapen “real” sexual intercourse between persons, undermining women’s “gatekeeping” power. In a very real sense, this is what happens when free-market capitalism turns its attention on the home and on our most intimate relationships. Nothing is sacred to the unscrupulous today.

5. In the face of this shift away from cultural incentives to marry, does the uncertainty around issues pose the possibility that young adults might be convinced of the benefit of traditional practices/timeline? You seem skeptical of this in the Washington Post article. Why? 

I very much believe that young adults desire traditional practices—like marriage—and on sensible timelines. But our attitudes toward these things do not drive our behavior like one might rationally expect. I tell a story in Chapter 5 about Nina, a 25-year-old from Denver. She wants something good—to begin a relationship with a close friend, to marry him, and raise a family with him. But she just does not know how to get there. Her past experiences with men have drained her emotionally, as well as taught men that sex is cheap. As I said in the book, “When she looks around her, she knows something is wrong while perceiving normative (but problematic) behavior patterns in others and in herself.” Young people long for the good, the true, and the beautiful, but they have lost sight of what it takes to get there: discipline, restraint, patience, boundaries, and sacrifice. And they’ve forgotten that we’re in this together—not to compete with each other—but to help each other get to where so many still want to go, that is, to stability, love, and marriage.

6. Do you see any implications for this on an individual level in terms of how people, specifically Christians, are interacting with one another and should navigate this shifting cultural landscape with regard to dating, romance, and relationships?

I do. I think many Christians know what it takes to marry, and they know what behaviors promote marriageability. In other words, they get how this works. And yet Christians can be prone to “poaching” on both sides. By that I mean they can rush things—committing too early to the first decent person who agrees to a date, for fear that it’s their only chance. And on the other side, Christians can readily succumb to the sexual dynamics of the modern dating scene, hopping into bed too quickly. We’re often not as strong as we think we are. There tends to be wisdom in navigating the relationship “market” with the help and advice of friends and parents. They can often see things we cannot.

7. How do you see your research being useful for a local pastor or church leadership seeking to offer guidance to a congregation considering this transformation in these areas of romance and relationships?  

The primary reason I wrote the book is to explain our situation, not to map the way out of it. I don’t have good advice about what can solve this. However, I think the book enables us to “see” the situation, which can be extraordinarily helpful, because what is ailing young adults here is often invisible to them. They know there’s something wrong. They tend to blame themselves, or “the men,” or “the women,” or to criticize “the culture.” But we didn’t get to this point without the technology—the Pill, porn, and online dating—that has made sex easier and hence “cheaper.” Seeing how it happened is a good first step toward helping each other navigate the relationship scene more prudently and chastely.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24